Well, folks, we've nearly made it. The season starts tomorrow with Sporting Kansas City's visit to the Philadelphia Union and really gets going (clearly) with D.C. United's nationally televised Texas trip to take on the Houston Dynamo in a rematch of last year's Eastern Conference Finals. So what better time to invite some good old fashioned speculation from our readership? So let's get right to it?
Supporters' Shield Winner?
Last year it was the San Jose Earthquakes in a walk. Who will be in contention this year? The Quakes will be right back in the thick of it. The Seattle Sounders look very strong this year. The Galaxy may have a hole to climb out of, since Landon Donovan is extending his walkabout through the first month of the season. In the East, there are few teams who will look to make some noise, including the Sporks, D.C. United and Houston Dynamo.
But my money is on the Quakes to repeat. I think they're likely to give the CONCACAF Champions League short shrift so they can focus on the League, and it'll be to their benefit.
US Open Cup Winner?
Last year, Kansas City ended the Sounders' reign of terror in the USOC, and I think we'll have another different winner this year. Why not us? Give me D.C. United lifting their third Open Cup and claiming trophy #13 this year.
MLS Cup Winner?
I can't not say D.C. United here. Depending on the Galaxy's summer acquisitions, they're going to be a threat to beat us to Star #5 (unless they somehow let themselves sell Omar Gonzalez midseason, which would be awesome for everybody else), but there's no reason why this shouldn't be United's year after getting some playoff experience last year.
Chris Wondolowski won this last year on the back of his record-tying goal haul. DeRo won it the year before, and the D.C. United captain my pick to win it again this year. His goal and assist tallies should both be huge again this year, and with a good team around him, I think DeRo will have a strong case for another MVP award.
Golden Boot Winner?
I mentioned Chris Wondolowski, right? He's had at least a share of each of the last three goal-scoring titles. Why in the world would I pick anybody else for this year?
Defender of the Year?
Last year it was Matt Besler, the best defender on the best defense in the league. I don't think the Sporks will repeat the feat this year without Roger Espinoza and Julio Cesar in front of them, so the award will be moving somewhere else. If Omar Gonzalez makes it the full season with the Galaxy, this award will be his. If not, though, my next best guess is Victor Bernardez in San Jose.
Rookie of the Year?
This looks like the first year in a while that United won't have somebody in the running for Rookie of the Year. Last year, Nick DeLeon finished second. Perry Kitchen was a finalist in 2011. Andy Najar's ROY season is the only thing I seem to remember from the year before that. And Chris Pontius was a finalist back in 2009. But something tells me that Taylor Kemp and Michael Seaton won't be pushing for the award this year. Just because I think he's going to get a ton of time for Toronto FC and in the Gold Cup this summer, I'll say Kyle Becker, but that amounts to very little more than a dart throw (and I'm not particularly accomplished at darts).
Newcomer of the Year?
Well it won't be Emiliano Dudar, no matter what I thought last April. And, for that matter, this award, like all the others, won't be decided in April. I'll go with Claudio Bieler, who should get chances just from KC's high pressure and is a better finisher than KC has had since their rebranding. He might even find himself in the Chris Wondolowski Golden Boot race (I'm just assuming they'll rename the award for him this season).
Coach of the Year?
Bruce Arena. As long as the Galaxy make the playoffs - and they will in a not-very-deep Western Conference - the story will be how he overcame the loss of David Beckham and reintegrating Landon Donovan to pilot blah blah blah.
Wooden Spoon "Winner"?
This goes to the worst team in the league, and it's had Toronto FC written all over it for a long time. I know a lot of people are going to pick Chivas USA here - and there's a lot of reason to think they'll be in "competition" for this "award." But I'm going with the New England Revolution here. There's not a lot of reason to think Jay Heaps' side will be very good this year, and I think they'll be considerably worse than that. (When I'm wrong on this one, you all have my permission to remind me.)
Biggest Storyline of the Season?
For D.C., as always, it'll be the stadium hunt, one way or the other. Hopefully that'll be a positive storyline this year and will mesh well with a bunch of positive on-field storylines. For the broader MLS, I think the top stories this year will be the continued sales of top young talent to Europe, including some during the summer and even more come next January.
Now it's your turn. On the eve of the 2013 season, who are your picks for this year?